California’s Famous Fifty contains a surprising number of books of short stories. Included are collections by Steinbeck, Saroyan, Hammett and Fitzgerald, as well as the only two women authors on the list, Kathryn Forbes and Jessamyn West. Which probably should be expected since California has been the setting for short stories since Mark Twain and Brett Harte. Less famous writers often used the form as well, often focusing on specific places. Here are six examples worth reading:
1. The Slide Area by Gavin Lambert. Five short stories depicting the lives of representative but non-sterotypical Los Angeles characters.
2. Concerning a Woman of Sin and Other Stories of Hollywood, ed. by Daniel Talbot. Nine famous writers of the 1930s and 1940s, including Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Saroyan, take their shots at Hollywood.
3. Valley People by Frances Marion. Downbeat tales of an isolated valley in Napa County, each told in a separate voice.
4. Angel’s Flight by Don Ryan. A Los Angeles reporter tells tales of ordinary people trying to cope with life in the city
5. Lost Borders by Mary Austin. Stories from east of the Sierra, several of which feature female characters.
6. The Picaroons by Gelett Burgess and Will Irwin. Customers at a Barbary Coast restaurant provide mildly amusing looks at life in San Francisco a century ago.
Most of these books are easy to find. Lost Borders and The Picaroons are out of copyright and in print. (Try to avoid a later collection of Austin’s writing with the same title.) The Slide Area is also in print. Angel’s Flight and Valley People are available through interlibrary loan but way too expensive through internet booksellers. Only Concerning a Woman of Sin is in short supply among both libraries and book dealers. (And once again, don’t be led astray by a Ben Hecht collection with the same title.)